Story by Noah Kuhn
Photo by Ella Jayasekera
Christine Oh had dreamed of starting a dessert cafe since she was young as a means to brighten her community with wholesome baked goods. However, her route was not through culinary school. Instead, Oh, who grew up in South Pasadena and has a background in product and color design, recently started using her professional skills to fulfill her childhood dream. After 20 years of working in the corporate world, she brings her design background to her patisserie, Berry Opera, which opened in July at Cake Sensations’ former location.
The cafe is named after its signature dish, the Berry Opera Cake, which is named after the many rows of a Parisian opera house. The cake originated in the 1950s and features layers of ganache and buttercream sandwiched between almond sponge cake. Oh chose the title in honor of South Pasadena’s eclectic spirit and to represent the pastry’s berry spin on the classic treat.
Customers are immediately drawn to the fresh baked goods as they walk in the front door. Bright colors in the display cases pair seamlessly with the clean white walls, producing an elegant and modern aesthetic. Each dessert is carefully placed behind a tiny placard that lists several of that creation’s ingredients, emphasizing the store’s commitment to consumer transparency.
Unfortunately, these benefits do come with a higher price. A small rectangular portion of the classic Berry Opera Cake sells for $8.50. It delivers an assortment of pleasant textures in one bite, but is slightly underwhelming when it comes to raspberry flavor. The cake fails to live up to its advertised fresh and fruity palate profile, which is a let-down for customers looking for something new in a dessert.
The chocolate croissant echoes a similar message with its lack-luster appeal. It sells for $3.95 but when I tried it, it had a disappointing amount of chocolate and had neither a crunchy texture nor a handcrafted feel. The beautifully glazed fruit tart was definitely delicious, but stayed on the same tier as previous tarts I have eaten.
While the patisserie is French-inspired, the desserts did not yield a uniquely Parisian quality. However, Berry Opera’s mission is a special feature: the restaurant donates all of the leftover pastries to St. James church’s food pantry each week. The cafe also is taking part in SPEF’s Food for Thought fundraiser on Tuesday, Sept. 24th to help raise money for South Pasadena schools.
“I am involving a lot of activity with the city and I love to donate stuff to the community because I like to support schools and other programs,” Oh said. “I try to have a lot of bright, open space and communicate with the customers as much as possible to make everyone feel comfortable.”
Berry Opera allows customers to nosh in comfort, looking out onto the buzz of downtown South Pasadena. The cafe offers exquisite-looking desserts that are yummy, but not worth the price. With some cost adjustments and more fruity flavor fine-tuning, this establishment will be able to earn the wow-factor.
Address: 811 Fair Oaks Ave, South Pasadena, CA 91030
Hours: Tuesday – Saturday 7:00a.m. – 7:00p.m., Sunday 2:00 p.m. – 7:00p.m.